「要な殺し」 (Hitsuyou na Koroshi)
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose. And Togashi Yoshihiro is certainly used to it. I can’t but wonder though, who really thought a thrift shop Hunter Exam arc was what Sousou no Frieren needed just when it seemed to be finding its stride? I’ve seen it suggested that it could have been an editorial intervention, a calculated decision to stall for more time and extend the number of volumes as the series was selling well. I suppose that makes as much sense as anything, but there is a reason why writers write stories, not editors.
While Übel as a Hisoka figure is the arc’s most obviously epic fail, there are a number of reasons why what works for the goose doesn’t always work for the gander. There’s not much suspense to this, first of all. We know Frieren and Fern are going to survive, and they’ve already been established as basically unbeatable to boot. One of the cool elements of the original Hunter Exam arc (which was better-placed near the beginning of its series) was that there were characters obviously stronger and more experienced than the four heroes, meaning the threat felt real and that they had to be exceedingly sneaky and/or lucky to survive (never mind pass).
Perversely, I think this arc is working best in the moments that are theoretically anti-climaxes. Like the Wirbel-Übel fight petering out into nothing when the infallible Fern shows up, and Fern putting Ehre to sleep (and not even on-camera, at that). The third match of this group ends the same way, in fact, with the obviously stronger mage knocking the other one out. It all ends, hilariously, with Wirbel carrying his two enfeebled colleagues and then stumbling on a stille he can use his binding magic on, rendering all that kerfuffle basically irrelevant (a metaphor for the entire arc and its likely aftermath, perhaps).
I say this works best because at least it differentiates Sousou no Frieren from the series it’s obviously paying homage to. This show can’t be Hunter X Hunter, and it’s best that it not try so hard. Candidates killing other candidates for fun works for that series, but not for this one. Candidates hesitating at delivering the final blow and trying to win without doing so is more in-line with the identity Frieren has established for itself. The exam proctors certainly play as first-class DBs who don’t care who lives or dies (in that sense also echoing the source, though those were far more interesting as characters in their own right) but that doesn’t mean the mage candidates have to play along.
That all builds, naturally, to the one faceoff in this melee that hold some real intrigue – Frieren vs. Denken. Not as to who will/would win – that’s obvious. But how it will play out, because Denken is such an intriguing old gnome and we knew little about his teammates. His colleague Richter paints himself as ruthless, professing no hesitation in killing Kanne and Lawine (and no modestly in assuming it’ll be simple). Denken flat-out says (and Frieren agrees) passing the exam isn’t worth killing other mages. Especially a “couple of kids” like this. Richter edumacates Frieren about the real reason to pass this test – organization leader and “living grimoire” Serie (who also appears to be an elf) will grant anyone who passes one spell of their choosing. And she apparently knows all of them…
While the third member of Team Denken uses “Jilmer” (a hypersonic spell) to steal the stille and Richter uses his magic to isolate himself and the kids, Denken and Frieren finally have their moment. I don’t think either one would kill the other given the chance (which she’ll surely have), and we know Frieren will win any test of strength. So where will the drama come from in this showdown? I’m curious to find out, more so than about any other thread in this fabric, because at least these are two interesting characters with interesting perspectives.